That’s particularly true when it comes to the role performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) have played in today’s game. No positive test, I told myself, would really surprise me. I might have held out hope for certain players, but I thought there was no way any one player’s positive test would truly disappoint me. Set the bar low, that way you’re sometimes pleasantly surprised. I know, a dark worldview, but can you really blame me?
But then the news of Ryan Braun’s positive test hit, and it rocked my philosophy to the core.
There are a number of reasons why this has sent me reeling. One is I’ve known Braun for a while, interviewing him for the first time when he was a junior at the University of Miami, the year the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in the first round.
Another is that he doesn’t fit the profile, does he? We all want those who test positive to fit the Barry Bonds or Manny Ramirez mold. Alex Rodriguez didn’t fit in terms of body type, but his general demeanor left many in the sports world less than compassionate. And while perhaps Pirates fans aren’t exactly members of the Ryan Braun fan club because of past tensions, most would probably begrudgingly admit that Braun has conducted himself as a model citizen on and off the field.
Maybe we don’t like the Brewers, but a guy who signs a long extension before he hits free agency so he can stay in a smaller market, with the team that drafted him, isn’t that what we want here?
But I’m dancing around the real issue, aren’t I? The real reason this story has thrown me is because he’s Jewish. Sure, it’s only on his father’s side, but Braun has always embraced that part of his family’s history and I’m sure I’m not the only one who was dreaming of Braun playing for that Israeli World Baseball Classic team.
Having one of “us” test positive for a higher level of testosterone — that’s all we know right now and there have been sources that have said in reports that it’s not a “PED, drug or steroid of any kind” — is a very hard pill to swallow. We have so few Jewish sports heroes to look up to, and now the one who was at the top of the list, the recent winner of the National League Most Valuable Player award, is facing a very large fall from grace.
What to do about this information? It had come to the point where any positive test came with an automatic conclusion of guilt. It didn’t matter how vehement the denials, did it? If someone tested positive, they were guilty before proven innocent, end of story. How many of you doubt for a second that Bonds or Roger Clemens took PEDs?
Yet here I am looking at these stories of Braun’s positive test and I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least until more information comes to light. I want to hear what he has to say — he told my MLB.com colleague Adam McCalvy via text, “I would love to talk, but unfortunately I'm not really allowed to say anything right now. My day will come soon, though.”
I want him to have his day. I want him to be able to explain this in some way where a 50-game ban isn’t an inevitability. And this goes counter to how I’ve reacted to every other positive test story. Is it fair that I’m treating Braun differently than all those others? Probably not, yet I will continue to do so until there’s more proof.
Call me inconsistent; I can handle it. I just hope that the standard I’ve held Braun up to — one that he’s managed to live up to until now — can hold up. I want him to prove me right. Or, when I look at my dark side honestly, prove me wrong.
Say it ain’t so, Ryan, say it ain’t so.